By Liz Maria Kuriakose
Edited by Namitha Sadanand, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
It might sound surprising if you hear today ‘I’m going to the post office to receive a money order’. What can be even more startling is to get to know of a ‘Money order Economy!’ Human resources have flown in and out of Kerala over the years to the oil-spilling gulf. Prosperity has been the trend since then.
Men may come; men may go, as the data shows. The number of Kerala emigrants living abroad has risen from 2.19 million in 2008 to 2.28 million in 2011. At the same time, the number of those who have returned back to the state is estimated at 1.15 million in 2011. Foreign remittances have been a part and parcel of Keralite life over the years. The economy flourished, businesses boomed, households grew and moreover the state has developed its own model as an example for the rest of the country. With an increase in foreign remittances, the number of money exchanges and transfers, and deposit schemes in banks multiplied. Kerala remains the top recipient of foreign remittances at $2.3 billion. And the state is said to be the recipient of that money, which is utilized partly for the development and the rest finds its way into NRE accounts and to individual recipients. Banks in Kerala have developed innovative schemes to lure NRIs at attractive interest rates. These repositories hold not just Indian Rupees, but even Dirhams, Dinars and Dollars! When the rupee nose dives, it’s the right time. In the pursuit to remit money in India, loans taken abroad tend to be the last resort. Even as Kerala continues to enjoy the fruits of the labour from abroad, an eroteme lingers on the status and survival of the Malayalees in the Gulf. The legal and political situation in the Middle East has put the lives of many at stake. With laws like Nitaqat enforced, Kerala will be the worst hit. Nitaqat seeks to replace the jobs occupied by the expats with the nationals. The panic spread around this new law continues to date. More than 1.75 lakh Malayalees have returned empty handed so far. The state and the nation are yet to experience the gravity of the situation. Further, the aftermath of the Arab spring has rendered the region politically unstable. What if they were to return back?
Banks, insurance companies, mutual funds, real estates and finally, the state government has innumerable schemes to offer. Schemes with saving plan, pension plan, life insurance plan, education plan, health care plan, real estate loan, and then a plethora of taxes plus the cost of living. Now, tell me, what have these people actually got in hand? Rehabilitation of returnees is a matter of deep concern. Pension schemes still remain a distant dream for many. It’s time to think about the manner in which these remittances are efficiently utilized. At times, they lie dormant in bank accounts, which end up just meeting the family expenditures. The Government should focus on how to put these funds to use which can include investments in microfinance, infrastructure, health and education sectors as well as aim for socioeconomic development. Non-Resident Indians should be considered ‘nation builders’ who reside and work beyond the boundaries. Give them the rights they desire (especially to vote!), the status they deserve and the opportunities they would love to be a part of. Give them a peaceful and secure returnee plan!